A Fondness for Pearly White Beaches and Inconvenient Coincidences
I’m beginning to look more human
“Honey, I’m home!” I said into the monotonous darkness that had managed to squeeze itself into every crevice of my living space. My girlfriend shut the front door behind her. Her long hair tangled itself around her head as she struggled to lug the rugged suitcase through the narrow entranceway.
“Do you have to say that every time we come home from a long trip?” Mia said.
“Of course, I’m happy to be back home!” I said.
“No, you aren’t. There isn't a pearly white beach outside our window, and this surely doesn’t look like a refreshing margarita in my hand!” Mia sighed, “I miss it already.”
“Well you’re setting the bar too high, that’s not fair. Most houses don’t have a beach. A margarita isn’t off the table though. Let’s get our stuff upstairs so we can shower, I feel gross. Airports always give me a weird feeling, like I’ve just used a broken-down gas station bathroom. Y’know, the ones with the reeking piss stain that miraculously found its way onto the ceiling.”
With Mia trailing behind, I turned on the stairwell light and was greeted by the presence of our roommate’s odd bolted door at the top of the stairs. I’ve never met the roomie as they’re currently holed away in only ‘God knows where,’ for an alleged “temporary work assignment.” Every time I take a glance at the bolted door, I can’t help but wonder at what’s stowed away in there: Strung up corpses? Files proving alien life on earth? A hairy monster that leeches off the darkness? Mia never entertained my fantasies and simply laughed whenever I suggested something sinister was afoot.
I grabbed both of our suitcases and dual-wielded them up the stairs. The suitcases bruised themselves on every step; I personally didn’t care.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs, I said, “You think this mysterious weirdo is back yet?” I dropped the luggage, blocking Mia’s path. She watched with tired eyes as I shook the two steel bars that ran across our roommate’s bedroom door, securing it in place. “Hey dude, how many mummified corpses you got in there!” The steel bars were connected to the door and its frame in a ‘T’ shaped fashion, preventing the door from opening. They didn’t budge in the slightest even with me pulling with all my weight. Mia stood with her arms crossed, staring at me with a look of whatever the opposite of admiration would be.
“Why, Quincy? Please, just move?” Mia said.
“Fine, I’m going. I just wanna know what type of demented stuff he’s got in here that needs military-grade security. It’s kind of odd we haven’t even seen him yet. It’s been a whole six months since we moved in!”
“And it will take me a whole three minutes to fall asleep. I’ll allow you to talk to me about it tomorrow.”
I picked back up the suitcases, skirted myself into our bedroom, and threw the luggage onto the wooden floor. The lights were off but the bulb from the hallway was enough to illuminate most of the bedroom. Mia followed me in a wavering dance, pretending she left the pub after a drink too many. When her toes reached the foot of the bed she closed her eyes and performed a trust fall, face first, into the welcoming arms of the mattress. Her head landed in the center of the bed and her hands clasped into a prayer to support her face. The bed enveloped Mia and created a custom-made depression to fit her outline.
“Sooooooooo tired. Can’t we shower in the morning?” Mia said.
“Absolutely not, the number of germs clinging to us from the airport? I shudder thinking about it,” I said, wrenching at her leg.
“Stop, just cuddle me!”
I pulled harder at her leg until her lower torso hung off the bed frame limply. “Okay, okay, start the shower, I’ll be there in a second,” Mia said.
I forced my gaze to remain fixated straight ahead towards the bathroom down the hallway and to the right of our bedroom. As I passed by the neighboring bolted door, its image lingered like an itch on the back of my head. I entered the bathroom and switched on the light. The water-stained mirror looked at me and I returned the gesture with several silly faces to test how bizarre I could possibly look.
I started the shower; the sound of the water hitting the smooth tile was heavenly music to my ears. I removed my shirt and then saw Mia taking her turn in the mirror. I embraced her from behind.
“I’m beginning to look more human,” Mia said.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
She didn’t answer.
I asked Mia again in the same curious manner, “What does that mean?”
“That I’m more human! The vacation helped,” she said.
“Is that good? What were you before?”
“Well, I think you look like an angel, with your sun-kissed face and all. Quit with your nonsense and get in the shower.”
Mia and I both entered the shower that was protected by a thin sliding glass door and a floor built from tiny squares of varying beige colors. The water was initially cold and felt like needles until I turned the temperature knob counterclockwise. I held Mia for a time and simply enjoyed the now warm water rushing down our close-knit bodies. I kissed her neck and held my face there, waiting until the line on her face transfigured into a slight smile.
There was a ghastly tumbling sound from outside the shower, ending with a thump at the bottom of the stairs.
I froze. Mia heard it too, I could feel her skin going cold even though the water was steaming.
“That… that sounded like someone fell down the stairs,” Mia said. Together, we listened intently for any clues, like frantic footsteps or the creak of a door. I began to panic, and my mind rummaged for a solution to ensure Mia’s safety.
No other noises followed. I exited the shower and tightly wrapped a towel around my waist as tight as a corset. Mia peered out from the glass shower door and telepathically told me, Hey, I’m not staying in here alone. I raised my eyebrows in response, then handed her a towel. We left the shower running, in the hope of not alerting a potential intruder.
As quietly as I could, I inched open the bathroom door. Nothing was visible through the small crack. As I sprinted to the bedroom door, I snapped a glance at the bottom of the stairs, hoping to learn that a suitcase was the culprit. There was nothing, both were still in the bedroom where we left them. I scavenged for my cell phone. When I found it I entered, ‘911.’ I looked at Mia for approval, “Should I call?”
“What else would we do?” Mia said.
“Maybe we misheard and it was just some boxes falling somewhere. I’m not sure.”
“We both heard the same thing, and it definitely was not boxes!”
“Yeah, but if I call the police, then it becomes a whole event; and if there’s no one here then I’ll feel like an idiot.” I considered my options again. I looked around the room, searching for anything that could be used as protection.
A golden glint caught my eye, the shine coming from a hilt poking out of the closet. I walked over to it and pulled out the glaive. The glaive had been left to decay, rotting away in the closet ever since I bought it at a renaissance fair four years back. Now was the time to unsheath it and realize its full glory. I steadily slid back the black cover that shielded the blade. I held it up heroically, pointing the sharp edge towards the ceiling.
“Oh, you can’t be serious,” Mia said. “Call the damn cops and let’s be done with it. You don’t even know how to use it, you’ve only held that sword once since you bought it.”
“Glaive, Mia, it’s a glaive.”
I grabbed the blue bottled pepper spray from the nightstand drawer and handed it to her. “I think it will be fine. Stay close behind, or stay up here if you’re tooOOoo scared.”
“I’m not letting you live this down if we’re killed,” Mia said.
We descended the stairs and I immediately noticed that the lights were on in the living room. “I could have sworn you turned the lights off. Check the door.”
Mia crept to the front door, “It’s unlocked.”
A sinking feeling fell through me. “I thought you locked it.”
“I thought so too! Maybe I forgot?”
“How could you have forgotten? Did you, or did you not?”
“I’m not sure now. I don’t know. I’m tired. My brain is mushy.”
We carefully made our journey through the house, looking behind every corner, and listening to every creak and whimper that leaked from the floorboards. As we neared the dining room, the floor became increasingly concave. It threw off my balance and inspired me to tighten my grasp around the hilt of the glaive. I turned the corner and the hallway was encapsulated in a thick sulky blackness. I leaned into the dark with a stabbing motion, “Hi-yah!” The vicious motion loosened my towel, dropping it to my ankles. It inspired a burst of alleviated laughter from Mia.
“Leave it. You’ll definitely have the upper hand over any bad guys, you’ll catch them off guard,” Mia said. I abided; anything to make Mia feel more secure. It certainly felt strange to hold a horrendously sharp blade, while dressed in my most vulnerable outfit. One small slip and it’s all over for my unborn children.
My hand snaked around the edge of the wall, searching for the light switch in the kitchen. Once found, I flipped the switch and we both stepped into the well-lit room. Nothing suspicious waited for us in the kitchen except for the greasy unwashed pot and the overdue melon on the counter. The only area left to explore was the basement.
Behind us, adjacent to the kitchen, stood an aged door with cracking white paint. I motioned to open the now ominous basement door, then paused. “The hook is undone, and the door isn’t completely shut,” I said.
“That’s so creepy!” Mia said.
“Well, we got this far. I’m sure it’s just a bunch of small coincidences and they all have a stupid explanation,” I said. With one hand, I slowly opened the door, the other hand kept the weapon pointed steadily in front of me.
The light from the kitchen invaded the basement; displaying empty beat-up shelves that hung on the wall to the left of the stairs. Strung along the ceiling were numerous cobwebs, so thick they looked fake, and the stairs were littered with outstretched splinters that could punish those who dared to walk barefoot. I turned on the basement light which was in no rush to do its job. As we surfaced the bottom floor, I realized that the small singular bulb only barely lit the basement, leaving many areas still captured by darkness. “Could you go grab a flashlight or something real quick,” I said, with my gaze fixated on the dark corners.
“Sure, I’ll get my phone, I think I left it in the bedroom,” Mia said.
As I stood alone, I kept the glaive at the ready, staring at the areas I couldn’t fully make out, hoping that my eyes would be able to adjust. Instead, my mind started imagining the monsters that could be brooding in the space underneath the stairs, or behind the wall of poorly packed boxes on the other half of the basement. Then reality set in, I have no idea how to use a glaive, and I may very well face an intruder armed with a gun or a 6-inch switchblade. I had to be brave for Mia and not let pessimistic thoughts control me.
My heart skipped a beat when I heard what sounded like two pairs of feet coming down the stairs. I listened closely, holding my breath; however, it was only Mia.
She finally returned with the phone flashlight already on which was blinding compared to the meager basement light. Mia scanned the area under the stairs like she was a wizard with a staff; guiding the way for her companions in the eerie cave populated by ghouls and goblins.
We shuffled over to the area behind the boxes, peeking around the corner before exploring the new section. The white light scanned the room, then stopped, positioning itself on a metal closet with two doors, one of which was slightly ajar. It was so out of place, it gave me the feeling that I was being watched, played with.
“Okay, I’m actually scared. Since when do we have this in our basement and why is it perfectly human-sized!” Mia said.
I inched closer. Bite the bullet, and don’t think about it, I thought to myself. “Stand to the side there, and open the door,” I said to Mia.
My hands were sweaty, but I kept a fierce grip on the glaive. Mia stood at the side of the closet and looked at me for confirmation. I nodded. Mia swung the door open and I simultaneously stuck my weapon inside and scraped it along the edges, producing a horrific sound like nails on a chalkboard. I opened the other door with my weapon. Nothing inside.
“Well, we checked every area of the house. Just a bunch of creepy coincidences,” I said.
“Alright, let’s get the hell outta here naked boy, don’t want any spiders crawling on your p-p.” That comment brought a smile to my face.
Walking back up the stairs, I already felt more joyful and carefree knowing there wasn’t a threat. As we ascended, Mia patty-caked my butt until we reached the summit. At the top, Mia’s phone light died with her phone. “Just in time.”
We flipped off the light switch in the basement, and in the other rooms downstairs while the falling water from the shower pounded above, calling to us. I was becoming giddy at the thought of a nice thorough scrub finally. I retrieved the damp towel off the floor before going back upstairs.
Mia and I entered the shower once more. We vigorously scrubbed our hair and forgot that we just spent the past 30 minutes chasing shadows around the house with a glaive.
“I don’t know about you, but I thought you were pretty sexy down there,” Mia said. “I kind of liked seeing you naked with that long, sharp sword, ready to protect me.”
“Mia, please. It’s a glaive, not a sword. Get it right, woman!”
After the shower ended, we reused the towels we wore to venture the house. Then we dressed in our jammies, which were composed of a pair of matching t-shirts we won at a carnival several years ago and some snug joggers that are strictly used for lounging.
I got into bed and brought the thick quilted blanket to my chin. Mia switched the bedroom light, closed the door, and joined me.
“Goodnight, sweet angel,” Mia said.
“Goodnight.” I planted a kiss on the back of her head. She squeezed closer to me until I felt the shape of her body against mine. With two hands, she pulled my arm over her torso. I hugged her tightly and silently promised to never let go.
My eyelids jolted open as if blasted with a bucket of ice water. A hard thumping sound was heard from beyond our bedroom door. Something was walking up the stairs. My heart pounded and I had to suppress the urge to scream. I grabbed Mia’s phone, dead, and I didn’t see mine. The sound from the stairs drew closer and closer. I opened the nightstand and retrieved the pepper spray before slowly walking to the door.
I placed the weight of my body against the door, bracing it from the intruder. I listened closely and an unpleasant feeling rattled through my body, making my ears buzz. My heart sped up to match the pace of my breathing. The pounding outside still continued.
I tried picturing how long it usually takes to reach the top of the stairs, and the intruder definitely should have reached it by now. The steps continued. The sound seemed to grow, not making any sense to me, hurting my ears. It wasn’t a dream, the footsteps were very real. I waited several more minutes, with every footstep bringing me closer to a potential demise. Bite the bullet, I thought.
The void called out. I opened the door swiftly, generating a gust of wind that immediately blew out the ascending sounds from the stairs. No one was there. I tried to focus, rationalize again.
My eyes scaled the length of the hallway to the right of the stairs, the bathroom light was on, I could’ve sworn-
A voice emanated from the bathroom. A shadow was projected onto the hallway floor in front of me.
“I’m beginning to look more human,” a chasmic voice said.
Tears involuntarily flowed from my eyes. My muscles froze.
“What does that mean?” the same voice said in response to itself.
“What does that mean?”
“That I’m more human! The vacation helped.”
“Is that good? What were you before?”
“Well, I think you look empty. Every time I look at you, I notice a longing in your eyes. A want for something you can never have. ”
The neighboring bedroom door was wide open, inside was a room not too different from my own.
A figure with a wispy white face, lacking any distinct edges, emerged from the bathroom. Hair from its head effortlessly fell to the ground with each footstep it took. The perimeter of its face didn’t appear connected to the rest of its head, rather it was wavering subtly, almost aligned but not quite. Their clothes were charcoal black, and they had two holes for eyes. The shape of their body and the soft curvature of their face closely resembled Mia’s.
“What does that mean?" it said. "It means I'm hopeless,” it replied to itself.
My legs turned to jello, and my stomach felt like it was filled with leeches. I collapsed onto the floor. I instinctively threw the bottle of pepper spray at the figure but it missed, instead it smashed into the wall. The creature smiled, moving even closer to me. I reached my hands behind me and dug my nails into the floorboard and pulled myself into the bedroom. The figure continued to approach me, inviting me.
“Am I more human yet, Quincy?”
I scrambled backward, then kicked the door with all the force I could muster, slamming it shut.
“Quincy, what’s going on? Are you crying?” Mia said groggily from behind me as I was catching my breath.
A pounding emitted on the other side of the door, shaking it violently.
“Where’d our windows go?” Mia said. The windows in the room had vanished, replaced with drywall to match the rest of the bedroom.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you,” I said.
“Come outside, Mia.”
“Quincy, who said that?” Mia said.
“I… I’m not sure,” I said.
“Are you feeling more human yet, Mia?”
Mia erupted with a screech. Her fingers tied themselves around her scalp then rushed down quickly, yanking out numerous strands of hair. “Make it stop! Make it stop!” Mia said.
The door was still shaking. I was too scared to brace myself against it. I crawled into the bed and embraced Mia, I didn’t know how to protect her anymore. We sat together crying while the door continued shaking.
After when felt like an eternity, but was only seconds later, the door came to a pause. Mia cried in my arms for several hours before falling asleep. I had a violent headache that had spawned from fear, fear of something happening to Mia, fear that I wasn’t enough. When I couldn’t bear it anymore, I stood and proceeded to the door.
Bright orange sunlight began to pour through the opening at the bottom. I twisted the knob slowly. The door didn’t budge. I pulled forcibly, nothing. I stopped trying to open the door and listened to the voices outside.
“Wow, I had the best sleep ever. You hungry for breakfast?” said a voice that was identical to Mia's.
“Yeah, I’m starved,” echoed a voice I didn’t recognize. The new voice continued, “Heh, after sleep, I always become infatuated by your beauty all over again, as though it’s the very first time I saw you. I love you to the moon and back.”
“Who’s outside? Help! I’m locked in here!” I said, pounding on the door. The voices were now downstairs, I couldn’t distinguish what they were saying anymore.
I took the door handle and twisted it as far left as it would turn, pulled, then as far right as it would turn and pulled again; it remained shut. I slammed my shoulder into the door, however, it remained unaffected.
Sniffles started from the bed.
I continued to try the door. “Mia!” I said in an attempt to reach the voice outside. Instead, the name was lost bouncing between each surface of the room. The two people outside were too far away to hear.
The sniffles from the bed transformed into stifled cries. “Mia?” I said, finally looking at the bed. A figure lay there in Mia’s place. It had a ghostly pale face and two holes for eyes.
I gave the door a final glance before admitting defeat.
The figure acted as if it didn’t notice me as I slid underneath the blanket and placed my arm around its torso. I kissed it on the back of its head and closed my eyes to sleep.
“Hopefully you will feel more human soon. I’ll never leave your side,” I whispered into her ear. “Take as long as you need to feel better. I’ll be here.” I embraced her tightly to let her know that I meant every word.